Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Back To School Night

I know. An entire month into the school year, only a week before interim reports are sent home, and the middle school does back-to-school night. Seems like it would be helpful to have it sooner, but I guess the teachers need a chance to settle in before they have to face the parents.

Middle school BTS night is a lot different from elementary BTS. Elementary BTS you squeeze into tiny chairs at tiny desks and have the teacher talk at you for half an hour, basically reading the policies that have both been sent home already, and are sitting in front of you. There might also be some awkward chit-chat with parents you don't know, or animated chit-chat with parents you do know.

At the middle school, the kids change classes. They have up to 8 different teachers in a day. So for BTS, you go to their homeroom for a presentation on Wildcat TV by the guidance counselors and principal/vice principal, who stick in a couple of jabs at each other's football teams while they're telling us what we're in for.

Then we spend 10 minutes in each classroom our kids are in that day, with three minutes between "classes"--just like the kids get. We have to find classrooms on the map and bustle through the halls, and damn, if it doesn't feel like *I'm* in school all over again. Wondering if that mom is still mad at me for some reason and is going to avoid eye contact with me. Laughing that I run into that mom in every classroom, and funny how Number One never mentioned that her son is in so many classes with her. It's kind of fun, actually. After all the classes are done, we get to have refreshments in the cafeteria! Yummy cookies.

Some random thoughts I jotted while I was there:

1. I miss chalkboards.

There's something special about the sound and feel of chalk on a chalkboard. Now they have whiteboards, and those are more versatile (colors!), but not the same. Number One's computer class has a "Smart Board." It's a giant touch screen monitor connected to the laptop AND the desktop. Very cool...but not the same.

2. Learning-Focused Schools versus tons of information

A couple of years ago, our district adopted something called "Learning-Focused Schools." It dictates how the curriculum is run, and for the most part, in practice, it seems to be a good thing. But since No Child Left Behind, even in this stellar school district there have been changes. They're more apparent at the elementary level, as things have become more homogenized and less challenging. I hate the term "Learning-Focused Schools." What were they focused on before, if not learning? They're less focused on learning now, and more on memorizing and scoring well on tests and I promise I'm stopping there. I try really hard not to do politics here.

Anyway. The problems at the elementary level seem to have a bit less of an impact at the middle school level. Some of the teachers talked about the tons of information they will be getting through, and showed us some of the curriculum, and talked about preparing for high school, and of course I've seen it in practice in Number One's homework and assignments. I just hope Number Two doesn't get dumbed down in the two years she has left before she gets to the middle school and there's more flexibility.

3. Despite the problems related to #2, this is an awesome school district

Every teacher talked about the turnout they get for BTS Night, and raved about the involvement of the parents and the quality of students they have. I think Number One just has an exceptionally good class, because I've heard it all her life, how wonderful they are. But every single teacher was enthusiastic and excited about teaching, no matter how many years they've been doing it. Every one clearly loves their job, is sincere about loving the kids, and appreciates the parents we have. It was emphasized more by teachers who've worked in or know teachers in other districts. It makes me really grateful, because that enthusiasm and love for the job are really the top criteria for giving kids a good education. Everything else streams from that.

4. Number One is really lucky. All of her teachers are FUNNY.

She's talked about a couple of them, telling me things they've said in class and stuff, but I got to see it firsthand. One teacher was a little more subdued than the rest, and one was very no-nonsense and focused, but they all had great senses of humor. I'm jealous.

5. The kids are paying attention

The history teacher said the whole class has unprecedented interest in the election this year. She's been teaching 8th grade American History for 15 years, and says it's never been like this. I saw it in Number One, who came home all indignant about the candidates and their double-speak and their stand on certain issues that we have rarely talked about in our house, but it's interesting to hear it's not just her.

As a parent, it's nice to feel your kid is in a good place six hours a day, five days a week.


Cindy Procter-King said...

I don't miss back to school nights! Not at all, LOL.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

I won't, either! I really didn't want to go, but was glad I did, in the end. Plus, I skipped the last, most tedious session, and the socializing, because it was almost time for Supernatural. LOL

Vicky B said...

It was a challenge when three of our four were in middle school/high school at the same time! We had to divide classes up by who had the same teachers, classes or who we'd seen the previous year. I do NOT miss those nights! :)

But I do miss the other times for them in school. The parent booster meetings, the activities, the chaperoning. Yes, they were a hassle, but they were also fun. Enjoy them while you can!

Vicky B

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Well, there's a reason I only had two kids! LOL Yeah, I don't envy anyone that difficulty.

As for the other stuff...oh, we're such different Mom types. I DON'T do activities and chaperone (I break into hives at the thought of the latter!) and only do the minimum required for booster stuff. You know how anti-social I am!